Top 10 Trends Taking Over RI Restaurants

Drinks on tap. Over-the-top desserts. Plant-based everything. Here at Hey Rhody, we connected the dots between what’s happening in our kitchens, bars, and restaurants to serve you the top 10 food trends while they’re nice ‘n hot!

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Korean Cuisine

Ten years ago, you’d be hard-pressed to find authentic Korean food in Rhode Island. Early fans discovered dishes like crispy Donkatsu, Stone Pot Bibimbap, Beef Bulgogi, and Japchae in Providence at gems like Sura, Soban, and Den Den Cafe Asiana, and at Sun and Moon in East Providence. And then came the explosion: Korean restaurants started to pop up all over Providence, taking over prime locations on Thayer Street, downtown, and even Federal Hill.

The exciting additions of WOK & POT, Den Den Korean Fried Chicken, Mokban, Ming’s, and Lekker BBQ in Providence has influenced entrepreneurs to expand beyond the city’s limits. The former chef at Mokban opened Bapsang to instant rave reviews in East Greenwich this past winter, and Chi Kitchen Foods has taken the fermented condiment kimchi and made it a ubiquitous pantry staple.

Even non-Korean spots are dedicating menu items with these particular East Asian flavors: Hanju Kitchen serves up Korean-Cajun comfort food like Kimchi Mac 'n' Cheese at The Royal Bobcat on Federal Hill; TigerFish on Block Island has Bulgogi Beef Tacos; and Ivy Tavern on the East Side of Providence offers a range of Korean-inspired dishes like Bulgogi Steak Sandwiches and Bibimbap.

 

Gut Food

Sauerkraut as a health food? Who knew! If your first introduction to probiotic foods for improved gut health was through a yogurt commercial, you’re not alone. Fermented foods like sauerkraut also carry good bacteria, which is said to boost immunity and maintain a healthy weight. Beyond being a great topping for hot dogs, sauerkraut is rich in probiotics as is its Asian cousin, kimchi. Look for these pickled side dishes from local makers like Lost Art Organic Cultured Veggies, Chi Kitchen, and Luluna Kombucha.

 

Truck to Table

There’s nothing like a food truck to make even a side street seem like a block party. But for some truck owners, the “on-the-go” production is the first step towards raising enough money to purchase or rent a physical, standing space. Ask food truck owners like Vilada Khammahavong from KowKow Foods, and she will tell you her goal is to move into a place where the customers come to her. Rhody Roots, Hometown Poke, Like No Udder, Tricycle Ice Cream, and Smoke and Squeal BBQ are recent examples of the truck-to-table phenomenon. With brick and mortar locations, these innovative businesses are putting new meaning into “driving customers” to their shops.

But other mobile eateries are hitching their wagons to breweries and hip pop-up shops, creating a perfect union between brick-and-mortar and specialty food truck fare, with many equipped to cater personal events and parties, too. Find Solid Gold Provisions every weekend in the back of Long Live Beerworks. Operating out of a commercial kitchen space in Hope & Main, Cultro takes their Latin American and wood-fiered eats to breweries all over Providence and the East Bay. And The Tailor Shop, a luncheonette nestled next to Broadway Bistro, doubles as a pop-up venue for all styles of culinary takeovers.

 

Edible Art

Fondant flowers, gold flakes, petite plates, strategically arranged accents – these are all the makings of sweets so pleasing to the eye, you almost don’t want to eat them. But capturing them in all their Instagram glory without indulging would be a mistake because Little Rhody’s finer delicacies taste just as good as they look. Many bakeries and cafes today are churning out over-the-top beautiful confections, like the custom cakes and petite cookies from Sweet Indulgence (now located in Warwick), handcrafted mousse-based desserts from R Space, and devilish sweets with matching cocktails from Providence bakery Sin. So go ahead and savor the moment, but don’t be afraid to dig in either!

 

Plant-Based Food

It started as a way to cut out meat, eat healthier, shop local, and save the planet. Now, plant-based diets are trending beyond vegans and diet-restricted eaters, as more and more people are opting for meatless meals.

The increased interest has inspired new and old businesses alike to innovate and create satisfying – and also ridiculously tasty – dishes. Last year, Plant City made a splash in Providence with an eclectic spread of bars and restaurants, encouraging customers from every background and food preference to dine in its plant-based hub.

However, this trend didn’t spring up out of nowhere. The plant-based movement has been in the making for decades. Providence restaurateur Robert Yaffe (Garden Grille, The Grange, Wildflour) has been working since the 1970s to educate people on its benefits. Today we’re seeing a plant-based commitment in all kinds of food, from vegan takes on classic fare at by CHLOE and Veggie Fun in Providence, to gorgeous vegan cakes from Celebrated Desserts, to vegan juices at Root in Newport. You can even find vegan comfort fare from plant-based food trailer Basil & Bunny.

 

Matcha Madness

If you still don’t know what matcha is just look around, because it’s everywhere. The powder made from ground green tea leaves is in everything from ice cream at Providence’s Three Sisters to lattes at Junk & Java in Westerly. It’s in cakes, affogatos (a shot of a caffeinated liquor over ice cream), and KNEAD donuts. Everything about this powder – the beautiful green color, the taste, the silky texture – drives people mad for all things matcha. Plus, the tea provides a healthier way to stay caffeinated. Michelle Cheng, owner of Leafy Green Tea and Ceremony, says, “In this modern, fast-paced world we live in, people are looking to be healthy in a sustainable way... tea drinkers and matcha lovers are open to inviting a new ritual into their life.”

 

Experiential Dining

Diners are no longer satisfied with going to a fancy restaurant with white, pressed tablecloths and a waiter in formalwear. They want an experience. They want to be wowed by the decor, they want to know the chef’s vision, and they want to hear the story behind their food.

Big King in Providence delivers the unexpected, as chefs literally hand-write the menu that changes every night. A four-course dining experience at birch will take you through the best local produce and offerings from Rhode Island each season. Vinya Test Kitchen, also in Providence, was set up to inspire and incubate different restaurant ideas and modes of creativity. Their current resident, Rosemarin, serves elevated Swiss cuisine, while pop-ups Twelve Plants and Lagotto serve vegan eats and a truffle-based menu, respectively. Then there's a chance to indulge in outdoor dining year-round, with iridescent igloos at Gurney's and Mare Rooftop that come with special winter menus and cocktails to match. 

 

CBD Everything

People are forever looking for natural ways to heal the body and calm the mind. CBD (pot without the THC) is the latest holistic obsession, with devotees praising its ability to quell anxiety and relieve pain. CBD products are popping up all over Lil’ Rhody, from topical creams to dog biscuits, and it’s no surprise that the food and drink industry is beginning to catch on. TwoTen Oyster Bar in Wakefield serves CBD-infused cocktails while Kwench Juice Cafe in Providence offers CBD as an add-on to their smoothies. So, sip, savor, and relax!

 

Zero-Waste

Zero-waste is a fancy way of saying, produce as little trash as possible. From recycling cooking oil to composting food scraps, businesses are taking the lead in finding resourceful solutions. Newport’s Midtown Oyster Bar is just one of many regional restaurants getting inventive with sustainability. Overfishing and environmental changes have impacted the local fishing scene, and that’s why The Nature Conservancy teamed up with the restaurant to help fish repopulate. Midtown recycles about 6,000 oyster shells per week (in season), which The Nature Conservancy uses to create oyster reefs for the new baby oysters to attach and grow. Places like Providence Bagel employ forecasting measures to make just-enough product to meet customer demand and then send what’s left over to food pantries.

 

Drinks on Draft

It all started with beer. Then it was cold brew coffee, kombucha, and iced teas available on draft at coffee houses, bagel stores, and pop-up carts. While cafes like Caf Bar and Nitro Bar can satisfy your 'buch or coffee cravings with their tap offerings, now, the on-tap trend has expanded to another beverage: cocktails. Persimmon offers a cranberry and curacao Cosmopolitan with High Noon vodka on draft, while The Eddy dispenses seasonal cocktails from spigot, including  Gin and Tonic during summer and Old Fashioneds as the months get colder.